Century Marks

Century Marks

Life after death?

Once dismissed as mere hallucinations, near-death experiences (NDEs) are being taken seriously by researchers. Last year, three medical doctors published books on new NDE research in which they consider what it suggests about consciousness beyond the brain and even the possibility of afterlife. Researchers are identifying patterns that transcend differences based on age, culture and religious backgrounds. The experience of moving through a tunnel, looking down at one's own body, reuniting with predeceased loved ones and being overwhelmed with a sense of love and beauty are among the typical experiences. Some doctors say these perceptions can be traced to a distressed physical condition (RNS).

Beautiful faith

Troy Polamalu, a safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is known for his long, curly hair and the way he flies around the football field with reckless abandon. Polamalu is an Orthodox Christian who crosses himself before each play. He and his wife converted to Orthodoxy about five years ago, and he believes there is nothing more beautiful than the Orthodox liturgy. Despite his high-energy occupation, he fasts during both the 40 days of "winter Lent," broken by the Orthodox Christmas, and the 50 days of the Great Lent leading up to Easter. He is wary of claiming that faith makes one a better athlete—that claim, he says, can lead to failure in both faith and career (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 7).

Truth be told

Ricardo Sanchez was in charge of the coalition ground forces in Iraq when the Abu Ghraib prison abuses came to light. He was forced to retire, although later an army inspector general's report cleared him of wrongdoing. Now Sanchez is calling for the formation of a truth commission to look into possible crimes involved with the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques during that era. "As a Christian, I must do what's right regardless of what my personal consequences are," he says, "and that's what I have embarked on." Because of his out­spoken criticism of the way the Iraq war was prosecuted, he has not been able to get lucrative consulting jobs typical for retired military officers (Atlantic, January/ February).

Student boss

Mark Zuckerberg, Time magazine's person of the year, ­didn't do too well in an artificial intelligence course at Harvard, according to the instructor, Andrew "Boz" Bosworth. Zuckerberg can be excused for his poor class performance: he took the class the same semester he created Facebook, a social network online service that has 550 million members worldwide and is growing at a rate of 700,000 each day. Bosworth is now a director of engineering at Facebook (Time, December 15).

Standing debate

A young rabbi was stunned by a heated debate that erupted at his new synagogue on his first Shabbat about whether one should stand or sit during the reading of the Ten Commandments. The rabbi went to visit the oldest member of the synagogue—who was in a nursing home—to find out what the synagogue's custom had been. After hearing about the contentious debate, the old man replied, "That is our custom" (Beliefnet.com, January 6).